Thursday, July 5, 2012

Three Years Already? aka Goodbye Amman

I can hardly believe it. School ended, and the next thing I know, the movers are at the house and in just one day, all of our stuff was *poof* – wrapped up in boxes -
The cats were so confused! They got a lot of reassuring, but they did not like the disruption. To be safe, they spent the two moving days locked up in one of the bathrooms. We locked up all of our suitcases, important paperwork, etc. in another bathroom too. The movers were great about what they did and did not pack, but it is always good to be careful.
Day 2 of packout was simply getting everything weighed, crated, and then, it was gone.
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The kids helped by staying out of the way!
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With all of our stuff gone, we went out to dinner several times. We had a lovely traditional Lebanese meal at Fakhr El-Din with the office, and after Honor and her best friend had a big play date, we went out to dinner a different night with our friends (who we already miss so much!!!) to Copacabana, a wonderful Brazilian style churrascaria.  The beef was top-notch, but the great company was what made the whole evening unforgettable!

We had no toys left in the house, but give kids some boxes and they’ll have fun!
Ninja is actually in this ‘box apartment complex’ with the two girls somewhere too… she loves to be involved!
Brad took us out to Yoshi for tepanyaki/Japanese cuisine one night. We still had access to loaner cookware in the welcome kit that the embassy provides, once our belongings were packed away, but all of my spices and things were gone! Cooking isn’t much fun in an empty kitchen. We enjoyed our meal on the terrace.
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Brian was so hungry that he ate two entrees! He also discovered that crab rangoon is totally delicious. It’s good when kids learn to enjoy good foods, but the bad thing is having to share all the good stuff with the kids ;D !!
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We had to do some last minute cleaning, including erasing the ‘growth chart’ on the door jamb. So much change in just three years!
Our upstairs neighbors, owners of the building, had us over for a nice ‘goodbye’ dinner too, along with another American family/friends of ours in the building, and then… too suddenly… the van showed up to take us to the airport. It happened that quickly. School ended, packed up, and on the road.

We had a great driver from the embassy. Very nice guy who helped us load our bags and unload everything at the airport. First thing to do upon arrival at the airport, was to go through security. Bags are easy. Cats? Not so much. They had to be removed from their crates, the crates x-rayed, and the cats walked through the inspection/metal detector lines. The airport was loud and scary and the cats did NOT want to come out of their crates.

I was the designated cat wrangler, so Brad went through first to get bags and crates. The kids stayed back to pass things through and watch what was on the outside end waiting. I pulled each cat out of their crate – they huddled into my arms and under my chin… and then I’d walk them around, and put them back in their cage… which they were very happy to return to! It wasn’t really that bad, and we did one cat at a time, but it felt something like this:
(After we got to the gate and were waiting to board, Honor asked me to ‘draw something’… the cat ordeal being fresh in my mind, this is what I came up with.)

Anyway, after security, it was pretty easy. We had to check in, and that involved going to a separate line to pay the extra baggage fees (for the cats – we only had one suitcase each, but the cats were extra), and then we handed over bags and cats, and headed to the gate. The Air France personnel at Amman airport were very helpful and professional.

We had about an hour yet to wait, and fortunately, although Amman’s airport is still rather small (they are working on a big, impressive-looking upgrade) there are plenty of restaurants and cafes to provide a comfy sit down place.
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Our first flight, from Amman to Paris, went very smoothly. When we arrived in Paris, we had to collect all of our bags, and the cats, and re-check in. Not very convenient, but it was a good chance to check on the cats. We pretty much had to walk all the way out of the airport, not quite to the curb but almost, and then back in… as if we were coming in from the city… which was odd, but what they heck, it worked.

I have had to completely revise my opinion about Air France and Charles de Gualle airport. We’d had a number of very bad experiences with them long ago… it was just completely uncomfortable, unhelpful, inconvenient, disorganized, etc… and we have been avoiding them for years now. Using them this time was unavoidable though, and we were very pleasantly surprised. Very pleasant, so VERY surprised. It was like a whole new airline and airport!! In my opinion, they’ve gone from totally horrible, to amazingly friendly, efficient, clean, organized, etc. Everything about our flights, baggage handling and cat transport was handled very well, and I am now looking forward to traveling with them again soon!

Anyway, arriving in Paris, we were starting to get quite tired. We’d left the house in Amman at 10pm, after a long day (no, we didn’t nap beforehand – that would have made sense, but we didn’t do it), we’d flown out at 1am, and arrived Paris at, I think 7am local time. Can you tell that the exhaustion was starting to set in? Honor had to hold her dad upright.
DSC03324 No picture of me, but I was looking a lot like Brian… upright, but barely keeping the eyes open.
The kitties were happy to be with us, but did not like all the ‘stranger danger’ surrounding them during check in. This is one reason why I think shipping them in baggage (which is via a special pressurized and climate controlled hold) is kinder to animals… it keeps them out of the airport and airplane craziness. I rather think that being put in a cage and hand carried to my destination might be the preferable way to go… and probably more comfy than riding in cattle class seats for 8hrs… anyway…
Pixie in Paris … totally NOT impressed. She had some things to say about the whole ordeal that probably should not be repeated in polite company…
Ninja calmed down after we talked with her a bit. Pumpkin did too.
Check in was easy, and a special baggage handler took the cats from us to be boarded. We had about an hour wait ourselves. The shopping and ‘hanging out’ area of the airport has been greatly improved since we last passed through, but I was too tired to notice much. Some nice sales guy handed me a lovely bit of dark chocolate and pointed me in the general direction of a specific duty free shop, but I really don’t remember much. I was so tired that I actually slept for about 3 hours on the trip into Dulles, VA. I never sleep on flights, but Brian snuggled onto my shoulder and we both crashed.

Anyway, arrival in Dulles was non-eventful. I swear, Dulles is such a no-frills airport, but completely efficient. I love going through there. It’s so easy. You get off the plane. Ride the weird up/down bus thingy to the terminal. Go through immigration. Get bags (& cats). Go through customs. DONE! Walk out door to rental car shuttle. Easiest major airport. Ever.

Well, it was easy for us… Again, the cats were glad to see us, but were not impressed with the airport chaos or the bus ride.
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They got over it. It was really getting hot by the time we got in. Up to 100F. Fortunately, the rental car company was on the ball and had the type/size truck we needed (we’d reserved a big one, but that’s not always a guarantee…). We generally travel light, but we still had 4 suitcases, plus carry-ons, plus cats. We filled up the back of a Suburban, and then headed out to our temp place in Maryland. Quite an adventure, as we arrived just in time for afternoon DC rush hour, the day before the Independence Day holiday, and only a couple of days after the big storm of last weekend. Lots of street lights are still out around town, trees down, etc.

Fortunately, I’d picked our temporary quarters in a good area. We were able to stop at a Petsmart shop on the way in and bought needed goods for the cats, and it’s a good company that we are renting with… the apartment was stocked with everything we needed for the first night. Which was good, because we were tired!

After settling the cats in, we managed one more adventure before calling it a night. We wandered over to Chevy’s Fresh Mex for dinner. Soooo tasty! I barely remember what I ordered… there was a lovely chili relleno, some tasty guacamole, freshly made tortilla chips (we were sitting right next to the machine that they are made on)
and of course, as it is summer time, we had frozen watermelon margaritas… Mmmm!
All the above happened on 3 July. I am honestly not sure how we managed to up and functional on the 4th of July. Our good friend here sent me a text around noon, asking us to give a call when ready to get together, and I had to admit to him that we were still in PJ’s and barely staggering around. We’d had a good night’s sleep, but it had been a long flight/bit of traveling!

By 3pm we managed to get our act together enough to go grocery shopping, and by 5:30ish, we’d managed to get out and go over to our friend’s home. It was so nice to see him and his son again, and meet his new lady friend. Our traveling life is good, but we do miss out on important ‘home stuff’. Our friend grilled some sausages and burgers, and we spent a great evening catching up with each other. The kids haven’t seen each other in three years, but they picked right up where they left off and disappeared to do their own catching up.

We went out after sunset to catch a bit of the local fireworks, but traffic was insane-crazy! We caught part of the show from a distance… I’m actually glad we didn’t go earlier and get further into the area, as we’d probably still be in there, trying to get out. It was PACKED. As it was, we parked at a distance and walked several blocks in, with dozens of other people on foot too, to see some of the show, and that was actually fun. It was kinda crazy and crowded and last minute, but very festive. And… bonus… we didn’t get stuck in hours of traffic!

By the time we got back to our friend’s place, it was 10pm. The adults were tired, but we had to pull the kids apart. Well, they were actually quite tired too, but there was still some complaining about leaving. Fortunately, we’ve just arrived and will be able to get them together again soon.

Today, Brad had some admin stuff to get done, and the kids and I stayed in to figure out the washer and dryer and other routine things. Boring but important! I think we are still a bit jetlagged and more tired than usual, but we’re getting there! Hope everyone had a wonderful 4th of July celebration. We did, and we think it pretty cool that we managed to make it back to the US in time to celebrate the day here. That doesn’t happen very often! We’ll miss Jordan very much, but we’re looking forward to spending some time getting re-acquainted with our own home again this summer. Until it’s time to move again …

Did I mention that I also went to JoAnn’s crafts today?? Oh yea.. aisles and aisles of yarn and string and crafty stuff! Yep. We are definitely home!